UNITED STATES. We must save Detroit

The city of the automobile is emptying of its inhabitants. However, despite the place occupied by the city in American history, the exodus arouses only indifference, indignant the journalist and author Scott Martelle.

Let’s imagine for a moment that everyone living in San Jose, California (plus some 150,000 others) suddenly abandons the city. Passed out. Extinct in nature. Leaving behind office buildings and factories. This is what happened in Detroit, according to the 2010 census figures released recently. The city, which boasted a population of 1.8 million in 1950 and was the economic engine of the country for most of the XXth century, is home to only 714,000 souls, a loss of about 1.1 million. In the last decade alone, the population decline has been 25%.

No other large American city has experienced such a hemorrhage. It’s not as if the population has declined nationally. On the contrary, it is increasing. But not in Detroit. Its closest competitor in “emigration” is Chicago, a five-hour drive west, which has seen about 964,000 people leave since 1950 but still retains about 2.7 million, down 25% from from the peak of 3.62 million in 1950.

In Detroit, the exodus has reached incredible proportions: the city has lost 60% of its population compared to the time of its greatness. It is now less populated than Charlotte, North Carolina, or Fort Worth, Texas. More people have left Detroit than there are residents in San Francisco today. The phenomenon has multiple consequences, for the city as for the country. Census numbers for Detroit (and Chicago) are well below local authority forecasts and earlier census service estimates. So last year’s or 2000 count may have been wrong, setting a wrong benchmark. The municipality plans to challenge these statistics. The mayor, David Bing, announced his intention to find the missing 40,000 inhabitants which would bring the official population to 750,000, a threshold to be reached in order to qualify for certain federal aid.

Two issues have national implications. In the first place, with Detroit are we confronted with the vestiges of the industrial past of the United States or with a dire omen foretelling what will be the urban future of this country? Second, what should be done? It’s not just Detroit. If such an exodus had taken place in San Francisco, San Diego, Denver, or Dallas, there would have been an uproar, voices would rise to cry out loudly for some intervention. But we treat Detroit like a traffic accident: we are horrified, then we forget.

The root causes of the desertification of Detroit lie in the strategy followed by the big three automakers [General Motors, Ford et Chrysler]. In the 1950s, the Big Three set out with determination to spread their activities across the country to bring production closer to local markets, a policy that also enabled them to reduce labor costs by investing in locations. where unions are less powerful than in Michigan’s industrial capital. Their departure accelerated after new federal policies, in the 1970s and 1980s in particular, forced municipalities and states to compete for job creation, with tax breaks and other benefits intended to withhold or to attract investment. Businesses are the big winners, to the detriment of the city.

Racism also plays an important role. The exodus of whites exploded in the 1950s and 1960s, after courts struck down local and federal measures leading to segregation in housing. It was then the turn of the middle classes, both white and black, to flee crime, endemic in disadvantaged neighborhoods and strongly affected by unemployment, which is spreading to the rest of the city. Notably, the nearby suburbs are seeing their black populations increase as young households seek security, stability and better schools. As they go, the huge socio-economic problems become more and more intractable. Detroit projects the opposite image of what a modern American city should be. If most urban centers suffer from a few “bad” neighborhoods, the Michigan metropolis has few “good” ones, and these are rapidly deteriorating with the exodus of the middle class. Residents of working age face chronic unemployment and a dying industrial economy. The city suffers from decades of racial conflict and the failure of the authorities in essential areas, from education to the fight against crime.

One in three inhabitants, or three times compared to the rest of the country, lived below the poverty line in 2007 – before the economic crisis and the deployment of rescue plans to bring car manufacturers out of bankruptcy – which makes of Detroit, the poorest of the great American cities. Per capita income was $ 15,310 in 2009 [10 800 euros au cours d’aujourd’hui], against $ 27,041 [19 070 euros] on a national level. The education of a child mobilizes an entire village, the saying goes. But an entire country must mobilize to save a city. So what are we going to do with Detroit?

Scott Martelle

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57% of African Americans now live in the southern United States, according to data from the 2010 census. This is the highest percentage since 1960, said The New York Times, which recalls that start of XXnth century, the great migration had seen African-Americans leave the south of the country to settle in the great industrial cities of the North and the Midwest. For the first time, the cities of Michigan and Illinois are seeing a decline in their black population, while Atlanta, the state capital of Georgia, now ranks second behind New York in the number of Africans- Americans residing in its urban area.


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